Before I left the frost-encrusted Northeast for sunny Costa Rica, I didn’t really believe I’d be able to absorb much from a measly two weeks in a foreign country. Sure, I was open to learning and experiencing as much as possible, but I was skeptical that I’d really be able to grasp much of the complexity of a culture where I didn’t even speak the language.
I had the benefit of an eminently experienced Costa Rica explorer, our professor Bill Allen, and our group’s expatriate guide. The presence of these two people and the activities organized ahead of time, in combination with our unscheduled time, made for an amazing, thrilling experience. While not precisely immersed in the culture of Costa Rica, we got to experience several flavors and facets of it.
The different types of people we met, even when the interactions were brief or mediated through our translator, still revealed how similar in most ways, and yet how different in others, the people of Costa Rica are from the familiar.
Oldemar Salazar may have had a completely different experience growing up and struggled to get his coffee farm and production going, but he’s just like any other person who loves their work and found their passion.
The former fisherman who took us to go snorkeling on a coral reef stopped fishing and instead spends time learning and teaching, spending time helping researchers learn about the sea and showing tourists the world they should work to protect. A simple life, but a completely fulfilled one, doing what he wants to.
Not to be too idealistic – but those experiences, and the other people we met, demonstrated the universal human condition along with the quirks of a particular culture and society still experiencing growing pains.
Having experienced and learned so much, not just from and about people but also from places – I never could have described a cloud forest or dry forest the way I can now before I saw them firsthand – showed me that you really can absorb quite a lot in a measly two weeks.
Now I wonder, what could I do with more time?
No matter how limited the timeframe is, I’ve learned that it’s completely worth it to go experience a new culture. I feel I now have the tools where I can go anywhere, experience anything, learn and tell the story of different cultures.
If with just that bit of time we could produce as much content as we did, what could we do in a month? A year?
This trip has given me a new appreciation and passion for travel and for international journalism. I hope I can channel that in the future toward producing quality journalism but, even if that doesn’t happen, I think I’m much more open to going abroad in unfamiliar places, even if I don’t know the language, than I ever was before.